This article was originally posted on Active Rain in August 2007.
By now most agents and brokers understand and agree that there is little point to having a website if they don’t have IDX listings on it. Consumers seek out real estate websites specifically for listings and the easiest source of listings for websites is IDX.
But is your MLS’s free or low-cost IDX solution enough? For at least six reasons I submit that free IDX solutions do not serve your ultimate marketing goal — meeting and developing new client relationships.
1. Most free solutions offer no lead capturing at all. Free or cheap IDX solutions offer a one-way stream of listings data, with nothing except your phone number and maybe an email link for contact information. Recognizing that this is an incredible waste of good content, most website vendors suggest that agents put a guestbook over the solution. That is just plain nuts! When was the last time you greeted potential clients at your office’s front door with a guestbook?
Real estate is a service business. Show your prospective clients you have something to offer before demanding their contact information. Even if you get consumers to register in one of these cover guestbooks (most won’t, would you?), you’re starting the relationship off on a negative note, especially if you have a weak IDX solution on the other side of that registration form. As a consumer, nothing annoys me more than to give up something of value (like my contact information), only to find out that the website owner gives me junk in return.
2. Free solutions that do offer an invitation to register are clunky and counter-intuitive. The first rule of online marketing is to remember that online consumers most definitely do not want to be “captured.” To increase your odds of getting the contact information you need to start a relationship, make a compelling offer and then make the information exchange easy and effortless. Ask for registration in exchange for a property address or in exchange for daily new listing updates. Once the consumer agrees to give up some contact information, make the registration process simple. Make your required fields minimal. Add optional fields for additional information, but sparingly. If a prospect is inclined to give up extra information about him- or herself, you’ve provided the opportunity with optional fields, but you haven’t forced the point.
3. Free solutions provided by your MLS liberally brand the listing office. Of course this is going to happen. Listing brokers are members of the MLS, too. Display rules for most MLS’s IDX program don’t require this high level of branding for the listing office, but neither does the MLS have any incentive to downplay the listing office information. Yes, most MLS’s require the listing office’s name (and sometimes the listing agent’s name) on the listing detail page, but even this information can be downplayed and still be compliant with display rules.
An example of heavy listing office branding is the free solution provided in Florida through the state association. That solution provides the listing office and often their logo on the thumbnail page (the page that comes back first after a query is submitted with the brief descriptions of the matching listings). Most MLS’s don’t require listing office branding on the thumbnail page. A private IDX vendor is your advocate and doesn’t have to please the listing office for constituency reasons. Private packages are designed with you, the purchaser, in mind.
4. Listings results are presented lowest price first with free solutions. Do you specialize in low end properties? This strategy might work for you. But for everybody else…. Yes, visitors can usually specify a price range, but the lowest price in the range still comes first and how many of the listings will the consumer have attention span to review? (hint: not many!) Effective IDX solutions return your listings first and then make it really easy to re-sort the listings the way the visitor wants to see them, such as highest price first, lowest price first or newly listed. IDX-powered feature windows can further highlight your listings.
5. Free solutions don’t give your visitors any reason to come back to your site. Unless your solution invites visitors to save specific listings of interest to a private watchlist or register to get daily new listing updates by email, you’re out of luck if the visitor leaves your site without contacting you or registering. Why would they come back? Because your site has lots of great content? That content had better be pretty darned compelling, and nothing is as compelling as offering your visitor a place to “park” his or her homework or to get new listings “hot off the presses” by email, two functionalities not generally offered with free or low-cost IDX solutions.
6. Free solutions don’t allow you to build automated pages of farm listings. Specialize in luxury listings in a particular neighborhood? I haven’t met a free solution yet that let you create these pages. In fact, many private IDX solutions can’t or won’t support these pages. And even if your free solution supports this functionality, what lead capturing tools do you have to go with your cool farm page? Nothing says “neighborhood expert” like a page of listings on your site for your farm area, but manually creating and updating these pages is tedious, mind-numbing and not a great use of your time. Worse yet, you generally have to get permission to post another agent’s listings if the listing information is not straight from an approved, compliant IDX database. An IDX solution that automatically creates these pages and provides effective lead capturing is worth its weight in gold.
So What Are You Using On YOUR Website???
It is indisputable that consumers come to real estate websites to see listings. If you’re spending any budget or energy to bring these visitors to your website, you owe it to yourself to have a strong listings-based lead capturing system on your site to protect your investment. At $40/month (the going rate for a solid, interactive, effective lead capturing tool), why wouldn’t you? I mean really, I want to know.
Not sure if your IDX solution measures up? Drop me a side note with your web address and I’ll send you some brief comments back.
Absolutely certain that your sub-$40 solution does measure up? Drop me the same note and I guarantee you that I can email back at least three ways that a $40 IDX solution can improve your bottom line, whether it’s our solution or somebody else’s.
To your unlimited online marketing success!